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Ps: This site is monitored but not actively posting on a regular basis. Mostly these are stories & some photos saved from a defunct site known as Verdun Connections which was on MSN Groups initially then on a social network called Multiply.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
A Taste of the 'Main' to Verdun ..............what ?
4436 Wellington St. (near Rielle St.)
Credit cards: Cash or Interac
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Vegetarian friendly: No
Open: Sun. and Mon. 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Tues. and Wed. noon to 10 p.m., Thur. to Sat. noon to 11 p.m.
If Verdun is perpetually "the next Plateau," as has been heralded for well over a decade, the presence of Portuguese restaurants, traditionally concentrated around St. Laurent Blvd., brings it another step closer. So if Casa Manolo feels familiar, that's because it's a typical grill in what until recently would have been considered an atypical location.
Enter the blue-walled space, and check all the boxes: rustic tablecloths, guitarra music, bottles of Super-Bock, sizzling chicken, meaty fries, hot sauce with basting brushes. It's not pushing Portuguese cooking forward, but it's making good use of its charcoal. Opened in January by Manolo Ferreira Costa, who credits his Madeiran mother with sharing her recipes and is helped by his aunt in the kitchen (it would be great to eventually see a few regional dishes here), the story of this Casa is very much the story of Manolo: he grew up on the Plateau before moving to Verdun.
It's the kind of place you'd be glad to have down the street, and the neighbourhood seems to be on-board. On a Tuesday night, Manolo's terrasse was packed, partly because it was steamy inside (but only slightly more so than the humidity outside). The advantage of the interior tables was the view of the long grill behind the tiled counter, where the multi-generational team was hard at work. The waitresses were enthusiastic and almost too energetic.
We started with some decent sardines, always a great catch on a few counts: they're sustainable, pleasantly oily, moist, and, well, they actually tasted like fish. Soft croquettes stuffed with beef or shrimp were easier to just pop into the mouth, and the clean frying oil suggested an attentiveness behind the scenes.
For main courses, we made like tourists and ordered two combination platters so we could tour as many of the offerings as possible in one sitting.
First, the duo of shrimp and squid. Both elements were standard yet somewhat surprising: the shrimp was generously doused in garlic, and the calamari was gently marinated for an extra layer of spiciness. This was presented as a single unit, trimmed of tentacles, nicely chewy. A small bowl of pan sauce, made on the spot (more attentiveness) with white wine, lemon juice and Portuguese olive oil, was good for dunking seafood or fries. These were the wet, dark, heavy kind -balatas being the yin to the yang of light, crisped bistro frites.
I liked everything on the mixed platter (a reasonable $12.95). It came with a small piece of chorizo, but really, this sausage was so salty that you wouldn't want a lot more -well, you would, but you'd be better not to. Especially when there's a pork filet waiting there -this one was also quite salty and could have used a tad less time. The cooks really went to town on blackening the skin of the chicken -it stood away from the meat and emitted a soft crunch of char that was almost audible as it was cut. It was rounded out with fries and the usual Portuguese salad -pale, crunchy lettuce, tomato and cuke in astringent vinaigrette -that inevitably gets soaked in meaty juices.
For dessert, there was a dense pudding made with three kinds of chocolate, and instead of the usual natas, we had a flan with vanilla and lemon -ending with something cool, smooth and eggy. That was the way to go after a meal of hot, sharp, spicy, salty -and summery -things.